So, this week is Banned Books Week, which, according to the ALA’s website:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
Each year I celebrate BBW in my library. My favorite thing to do is to put paper covers over the books and write why they were banned on them. Inevitably, writing “Sexual content” or “Violence” or “explicit homosexual and heterosexual situations, profanity, underage drinking and smoking, extreme moral shortcomings, child molesters, graphic pedophile situations and total lack of negative consequences throughout the book” makes teens pick them up. (That last one is for Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors. Here’s the complete annotated list: Books Challenged and/or Banned – 2009-2010 (PDF))
My students often ask, “This was banned here?” and I explain that no, it was not banned in our school or library, but someone attempted to remove it from a school or library elsewhere. When they see books that they love and books that they are asked to read for school banned, it really makes them think.
Two things I probably don’t stress enough is that, although it is called Banned Books Week, in the United States it’s usually more about challenges. As the ALA site points out:
Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.
However, book bannings do still happen in other countries, as well as the imprisonment of authors whose views don’t match those of their governments. The PEN’s Freedom to Write offers great information about how you can fight the silencing of writers worldwide.